Saturday, December 29, 2012

Cairns - The Daintree Tropical Rainforest - A First Timer's Journey

In June of 1770, Captain James Cook and his crew were exploring the Australian coastline, and the Great Barrier Reef about 110 Kms (65 mi) to the north of where Cairns is today.  They turned seawards into what they thought was deeper water to avoid a large point of land. Bam!  They ran aground on the Endeavour Reef,  having just discovered it by punching a hole in the bottom of their boat.  They named it Endeavour Reef after their unfortunate ship -  It really ruined their day!  They managed to stay afloat and headed for shore to beach the Endeavour for repairs.  It took a while, but they fixed the hole, then sailed on. They named the cape that caused the whole incident Cape Tribulation.

Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation is at the northern end of the Daintree Rainforest.  The dark green of the rainforest runs straight into the blue of the Coral Sea. The Daintree Rainforest stretches from Mossman Gorge to Cape Tribulation. Check it out on the map.  It is a place of steep mountains, deep gorges, high rainfall, flood prone rivers, and incredible plant and animal bio-diversity. Walking along the nature trails is like being in a huge, leafy, green cathedral.  Moist air, everything drippy and wet, tall trees, jungle vines trailing, and a carpet of dead leaves and twigs.

Daintree Rainforest
The plant species in the Daintree are very ancient. They include types of ferns and trees that date back before the dinosaurs, up to 135 million years ago. The Daintree is home to 30% of the reptile, frog and marsupial species in Australia, 18% of the birds (over 400 species), 65% of the bats and butterflies and over 12,000 types of insects.  And all of this bio-diversity is crammed into an area under 1% of Australia. Now this is the place to go bird, bat and nature watching!

When Captain Cook ran aground in 1770, you can be sure the local Kuku Yulanji Aboriginal tribe who had been living in the Daintree River area for over 9,000 years knew about it.  They would also have seen the white man rush for gold in the 1870's as the Daintree Village was founded to supply the miners.  One of their descendants, Juan Williams, runs  Walkabout Cultural Adventures out of Daintree - his tours are worth checking out for an authentic experience. Another Aboriginal Cultural Daintree Rainforest Tour leaves Cairns and Port Douglas also.

As an alternative, to really discover the Daintree on your own, rent a car, then stay a few nights in the Daintree Village area and get to meet some of the locals.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cairns - Snorkeling The Great Barrier Reef - A First Timer's Journey

The use of a snorkel to breathe underwater has been around for 3,000 years - there are records showing the use of hollow reeds as breathing tubes, a far cry from the beautiful plastic and silicone snorkels of today!  Add modern materials to the production of face masks and fins, and you have the modern snorkel kit used on the Australian Great Barrier Reef. Snorkel Gear is included on good Reef Trips.

Coral Reef
If you are a first time visitor to the reef, it might also be your first time snorkeling. It is not hard, it just requires a leap of faith.  I reckon that those who have snorkeled well remember when we first strapped on the mask and snorkel, put our face under the surface, and got up the courage to do the impossible - breathe in underwater. After that? Easy.

The Great Barrier Reef is immense - it stretches 2,600 Kms (1,600 mi) down the east coast of Queensland, contains 2,900 reefs and 900 islands.  Look at a map of the Great Barrier Reef  to really throw it into perspective.

Coral only increases the size of a reef about 1 - 3 Cm (.39 - 1.2 in) a year, and it forms very fragile ecosystems, requiring strict conservation. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was set up in 1975 to regulate the 30 reef and 40 non-reef Bioregions that make up the Reef, and it was created a world Heritage Site in 1981. The permanent Great Barrier Reef marine Park Authority says where you can anchor and controls general use.
The Great Barrier Reef
Make sure you have booked a Reef Trip ahead of time - the best ones sell out in busy periods -  grab your swimming trunks and towel and head off to the Cairns Marina for a day offshore. You will have to go about 50 Kms (30 mi) out to get to the outer Reef where the best coral is found. Some boats go to a pontoon that is moored over the Reef in fairly open water, and some go to Sand Cays (islands) that allow you to go ashore and snorkel from a beach as well as in deeper water.

Have a great day out on the Reef, but don't make the mistake of leaving your camera or sunscreen back at the hotel.  


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